Below, Ilya discusses the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the 1940s and 50s as an example of poor people “voting with their feet.” It’s that, though it’s a bit more complicated than that, too, because federal New Deal policies set out to limit acreage farmed in the South (and thus a prime source of employment for African Americans) just as mechanization was started to also substantially affect southern agricultural employment. Meanwhile, New Deal policies also sought to undermine low wage southern industrial employment, which is why the federal minimum wage was set at a national scale even though wages (and cost of living) in the Deep South were one-third of those in the North. So there was a “push” and a “pull.” The pull was more freedom and economic opportunity in the North, the push being political and economic factors that left millions of southern blacks unemployed.
Ironically, given that Ilya’s interlocutor suggests that African Americans left the South for “good union jobs,” in fact those good union jobs, especially for unskilled workers, were beginning to disappear thanks to international competition just as black migration kicked into high gear, leaving many newly arrived residents without good employment prospects–though still far better off than in the South, where public assistance was scant and an unemployed black male could find himself harassed and arrested by the authorities. (And the unions, besides in many cases having a track record of discrimination, were harmful in another way–thanks to strict union seniority policies, newly arrived blacks were the first laid-off when layoffs occurred.) In a cruel twist of historical fate, however, the South soon became an economic boom region, while the inner cities to which blacks had fled went into severe decline.
Anyway, none of that’s to deny […]